The Head of Department
Ministry of Education,
Sub: What is the matter?...with you??
I trust this letter finds you in the best of health.
In my subject line I asked you a simple question. ‘What is the matter?...with you?’
And it has a very simple answer, one which any student can answer in their sleep.
Matter is anything that has mass, occupies space and can be perceived by the senses. It exists in four states (you may disagree with me here because you believe there are only three, but...read me out). They are: solid, liquid, gas and ...confusion!
The states of matter can be interchanged by applying extreme heat or pressure.
And as a department, you have mastered the art of applying extreme pressure to convert solid brain matter directly into confused.
‘Verify the cumulative additive properties of the additive inverse of 3/7 with its multiplicative inverse.’
This is merely one of the many such questions that an average 13 year old is quizzed on and now I’m curious...
Kindly explain to me, where in the life of any adult human being is this sentence ever used, asked or needed???
(To the uninitiated this simply means prove that -3/7 + 7/3 is the same as 7/3 + -3/7)
Since you’ll are extremely fond of word problems, I have a few for you…
Q1)What is with the volume??
Volume, as you have taught me, is the space occupied by an object. The volume that you aim to occupy inside of a child’s mind, in the form of the sheer content that you teach, truly baffles me. In this day and age of the Internet when one’s education never really ends, do children still need to be fed with, and expected to remember so much information?
Don’t get me wrong, I have no complaints with rote learning. Let’s be honest, how else do we explain the memorising of the spellings of words that follow no rules such as ‘blue’ or ‘beautiful’? Or of multiplication tables, if not by rote? But what is the purpose of children studying so many chapters of ancient history when all the information is available at their fingertips? Is education really just a memory game?
Wouldn’t we be inculcating the love for subjects such as history, geography and even Shakespeare, for that matter, if we taught them as extra-curricular subjects without competitive exams or submissions on them, seeing that retaining all the information is truly redundant? Instead shouldn’t we be teaching and grading life skills such as cooking, yoga or teamwork, maybe?
Q2a) Why is every child being pruned to be a scientist or a mathematician?
Is the high level of information given to all children in the course of their school life in these fields truly necessary? Our education programme seems to be customised towards nurturing only the most analytically inclined minds. And everyone is expected to rise to the highest level of brilliance in a class. Shouldn’t the knowledge imparted be easy to follow by all?
Q2b) I’m sure you great educationalists are aware that a sparrow doesn’t fly as high as an eagle.
Now we can pressurise it to learn, perhaps, with a lot of extra coaching, intense pressure to perform, by posing challenges, threats, bribes and passive aggressive humiliation. However, do we know what is likely to happen once it succeeds?
Ans: It will die! Because mimicking and perfecting one single skill of someone you’ve been thrown into an involuntary competition with, does not guarantee you will acquire the other skills that they possess by default. The sparrow will never be able to find its food by flying at the height of an eagle.
If the purpose of education is to prepare children for their future, then the goal should be to spot every child’s likes and subjects that interest them, and instead of competitive exams and grades, maybe a team of teachers and counselors should guide them to focus on those, while opting for a basic lower level knowledge of the ones that don’t come to them naturally.
For some, maths is a breeze, for others languages are their fortè. However what tends to happen, is that in order to perfect the subject that the child is weak in, within the deadline allotted to them, the children tend to ignore the subjects that are their strengths because those can be ‘handled’ at the last minute, and instead spend day and night trying to memorise what doesn’t come as naturally. Indirectly, our system is only succeeding in propagating that weakness is a crime which needs correction until everyone is at par in everything. How is this even possible? In the real world, is a surgeon judged on his skills as a lawyer? Or a lawyer made to feel bad for not knowing what an astronaut does?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, instead of ‘fixing’ a child's weakness, we would let them strengthen their skills and do only a basic beginners level of the rest?
Q2c) Now that we have established that every child is different, by quizzing them on a standardised, one-size-fits-all format, are we not contributing to their humiliation and lack of self confidence?
And they are too overwhelmed to identify and express these emotions. So they simply accept that they are ‘not the smartest’ ones in class and either rebel or constantly struggle to do better. Because we repeatedly tell them that the matter in front of them is, in fact, ‘very simple to understand’.
After all ‘So-and-so’ understood it so quickly.’
The indirect subtle hint is obvious. “How can you not??”
But let me tell you something. Most adults with their fully developed, mature brain cells cannot ‘get it’ either. Which explains the flourishing business of tuitions and coaching classes. If what you’re expecting children to learn was indeed that simple, most parents would willingly teach their own children and save their fortunes that are otherwise spent on tuition teachers. It is your brilliant students in class who grow up to become brilliant tuition teachers.
Q3a) Now we come to the important question,
What is the alternative?
Before you say it, let me stop you!
No, just because one is not interested in science and math does not mean they should have already, by the young age of ten or twelve, displayed some extraordinary talent in sports, music, dance or art in order to determine the course of the rest of their life.
It is because of this attitude that children are no longer allowed to enjoy and love extracurriculars as they should. Extracurriculars are vital for life. Because they are designed to bring joy, pleasure therapy and relaxation, and yes, often, also an income. However the pressure to excel even in these fields, either for additional certificates to supplement that brilliant academic resumè, or to compensate for the lack of one, is so immense, that the extracurricular activities do the exact opposite of what they were meant to. That is, they have become pressure generating chores instead of de-stressors. Moreover the focus then becomes on excelling in only one, instead of being good enough, but enjoying many.
Q3b) So coming back to the child who hasn’t displayed brilliant academic skills or the one-in-a-million talent. Let’s circle back to the ‘average’ or the ‘above average’ mind.
(Disclaimer: your words, NEVER mine)
The minds that, in the formative school years, you pronounced ‘average’, who by the way, are the majority. Those right there are your true success stories! Let me tell you why.
A majority of the world’s population, I would say, has made their millions selling or manufacturing articles of everyday necessities, products as mundane as zips, pins and pens.
Their lives are, successful, their families secure, their standard of living is high.
But no child dreams of a career in the business of, say, manufacturing stationery or owning a chain of gas stations or pharmacies. This kind of career depends solely on hard work and the right opportunity when it presents itself. However, these now successful adults, were once made to feel inadequate when they were young, because the keepers of the great education system lack the one basic skill that they falsely claim to possess...the psychic ability to predict every child’s future.
They continue to see trouble makers instead of leaders or future journalists, academic failures instead of skilled service providers, talkative and distracted children instead of a people’s person who would later excel in marketing.
Intangible skills are simply never taken into consideration in your grading system even though every job today is based on them.
Q4) And here comes the one that truly amazes me:
Why does no education system anywhere in the world incorporate accounting, the knowledge of how to invest your money, how to multiply and grow it to its full potential, how to pay your taxes (even loopholes to reduce them), in their early curriculum?
Instead, every single child is being asked to differentiate between the valve that separates the right auricle from the right ventricle in the heart...from the valve that separates the left auricle and the left ventricle...based on the number of flaps they possess?!!!!
Please help me understand this! Is every single adult likely to come in intimate contact with the number of valves inside a small organelle of a heart, even once in their lifetime? Or are adults more likely to need to manage their income and expenses on a daily basis?
Yet, mysteriously, it is only when a child has not secured what you have deemed to be the ‘genius level grade’ required for a career in science, by perfectly answering inane questions like this one, that they have to then opt for the ‘less demanding’ fields like business. And only then, do they start to learn the more practical things that will actually be useful in the real world, such as accounting and economics.
Now I’m curious. Do you believe that people in the science field do not require this information? Because in my understanding of life, learning how to grow and multiply your money wisely, is something that everyone from an artist to a scientist needs to know. Or does the great department of education, specialising in pressuring students worse than the Intel Agencies pressurise terrorists, not expect their home grown average scientist to ever make enough money to be in the higher tax bracket or have surplus money to invest? Why else would you deprive them of this knowledge?!
Hence proved : Your curriculum is a disservice to everyone! The main purpose of our education system, seems to be to prepare and encourage the maximum number of students to leave their country for better prospects. Your system is basically aimed at manufacturing batches of emigrants.
I would like to conclude by saying, the function of education, the very purpose of its invention, was to assist in learning. We are here to impart wisdom and knowledge to support our children, and to help them blossom, so that they become functioning adults able to contribute to their family and society.
However, somewhere along the way, the education department seems to have forgotten its role and misunderstood its purpose. They now believe their duties are to complicate and twist a simple statement to such a degree that the child feels like he is constantly being tricked and under attack. It is almost as if a weeding process is in place where they are trying to separate the scientists from the rest of the world and in the bargain, shaking the self confidence of the future artists and businessmen or employees by posing questions that even an adult brain cannot comprehend in one go.
So, my final question to you is this…
Q5) We were meant to be on their team. When did we turn into the enemy waiting for them to fail?
I know my questions are many, and unlike you experts, I do not have any solutions. But I assume that is your job, and I hope you share the solutions to all my problems with me soon. Because as your involuntary accomplice in the process of educating my child, I feel like a complete and utter failure, and quite ironically, I am used to excelling (and I have my old marksheets to prove it).
Which is just some extra information to prove to you that my letter is not the frustrated rant of someone who could not accomplish what you have prescribed. Instead, it is the detached observation and analysis of someone who successfully did it, and for the life of me cannot still, understand why?! What exactly was the point??
I do hope you will take my humble feedback in your stride and I trust you will collectively take the necessary steps to overhaul the education system to provide:
less specialised information
nurture more practical skills
provide a lower level yet balanced curriculum and;
build confidence in order to help our children all over the world.
For every parent and child,
P.S: I’m sure my letter would not stand to gain even the minimum marks in an exam, as it is meanders greatly from the prescribed format of formal letter writing as taught to me when I was in school.
But I do hope the department of education will, finally, begin to see beyond all that is wrong, and focus on the important message being conveyed... Here and everywhere!
A reader, dreamer, traveller, and a shopa-choco-holic beyond repair!! I'm best described as a teacher by qualification, a writer by passion and a mother by profession! Born and brought up in Mumbai, I have worked as a playschool teacher and freelance writer, contributing to several leading [...]